Alright, we all know that the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) dominated the Sega Master System (SMS) in terms of sales and size of game library. Was it really the "better" of the two systems though? From a hardware perspective the SMS was the slightly more powerful system. They had the same resolution and roughly the same horsepower, but the SMS could display more colors. Forget the dorky technical details, the SMS just looked better than the NES. Nintendo had a knack, even in 1986, for beating technically superior competitors with games that were just more fun to play. Throw in an eight month head-start & superior third-party support, and the SMS never stood a chance.

Still, there will always be those that claim the SMS was really the best 8-bit system and would have buried the NES if only [insert reason here]. I own both consoles and will be the first to admit that the SMS delivered some games that absolutely schooled the NES. If it was the more powerful console why did it lose out to the NES? There's only one way to settle this debate.. let's channel the spirit of George Plimpton and look at 42 NES and SMS games side-by-side to see which ones were truly better:

World Runner title

World Runner

Space Harrier title

Space Harrier

Box Score: There's no denying the The 3-D Battles of World Runner was a Space Harrier knock-off. I could itemize the similarities but have 31 more comparisons after this one so I have to hold back. The biggest difference is that World Runner is confined to the ground. Yeah, you can jump but all the action is on the ground. No enemies flying around until you fight the highly original snake-like bosses at the end of each level.

Winner: This is one of the rare cases where the knock-off is better than the original. The main reason is that the SMS port of Space Harrier isn't all that good. It looks spiffy but has poor play control and chronic flicker problems that cause you to miss projectiles heading right at you. Nah, World Runner can't hold-up to a decent version of Space Harrier but this ain't a decent version.

Pools of Radiance title

Pools of Radiance

Miracle Warriors title

Miracle Warriors

Box Score: OK, first things first. The logo for AD&D Pools of Radiance was taken from Hillsfar. Why? For some reason TSR had bizarre requirements for title screens of games carrying the AD&D branding. Like the two AD&D games for Intellivision, the title to Pools of Radiance doesn't appear on the title screen. Even a good AD&D logo is missing. TSR really had their heads up their *$# on this. Anyway, Pools of Radiance was the first "gold box" AD&D game brought over to the NES. It was obviously scaled down from the PC version but managed to keep the overall feel intact. Miracle Warriors was a semi-obscure SMS game that definitely tried to mimic the "gold box" style.

Winner: I found Miracle Warriors to be the more enjoyable of these two. Neither are great RPGs but Miracle Warriors does a better job working within the limitations of a two-button console.

Battletoads title


Streets of Rage title

Streets of Rage

Box Score: Alright, on to the brawlers. We have the nearly impossible Battletoads for NES against the incredibly easy Streets of Rage for SMS. Streets of Rage looks darn good for an 8-bit game while Battletoads suffers through massive flicker problems. At the end of the day they're basically the same, run around and slug-out a never-ending barrage of identical foes.

Winner: Battletoads has the slight edge here. I find both of these games, well most games of the genre, to be painfully repetitive. Battletoads is the more fun of these two overall. The SMS port of Streets of Rage is too slow paced and tries to be a three-button game on a two-button controller.

Dracula NES title

Dracula NES

Dracula SMS title

Dracula SMS

Box Score: Bram Stoker's Dracula was a mediocre platformer that was ported to darn near every console of the day. There are basically no differences between the NES and SMS versions other than the graphics.

Winner: This round goes to the SMS which looks much better than the NES rendition. The sprites and lighting effects in particular are a significant difference.

California Games NES title

California Games NES

California Games SMS title

California Games SMS

Box Score: So we come to the first direct head-to-head match up. California Games was a staple of home systems and computers from ~1984-1988. It's your basic collection of mini-games. None of the games are really great but are enjoyable for short periods of time. The NES and SMS versions primarily differ in graphics.

Winner: Here's a case where the pictures say it all. The games play roughly the same but the SMS version looks much better, more detailed and colorful.

Double Dragon NES title

Double Dragon NES

Double Dragon SMS title

Double Dragon SMS

Box Score: Another head-to-head match-up. Back in the day, Double Dragon for NES was a big deal. It was an arcade smash and the home version was overly hyped. The SMS version of course did not receive the same buzz. However, it's a closer arcade port than the NES counterpart.

Winner: I've already expressed my boredom with brawlers so I'll just say that neither of these keep my attention for more than 30 seconds. The play control is roughly the same but I found the SMS version to look better so I'll declare it the superior arcade translation. 

Dr. Mario title

Dr. Mario

Dr. Robotonic's Mean Bean Machine title

Dr. Robotonic's Mean Bean Machine

Box Score: I don't know which one of these came first so I can't say who's ripping-off who. The premise is roughly the same. In Dr. Mario you try to zap viruses by lining up pills of the same color. In Dr. Robotonic's Mean Bean Machine you line up little blobby things by color to try and get four in a row or setup combinations. It's a lot like Columns I guess. Neither are quite as addictive as Tetris but can still make time disappear once you start playing.

Winner: This is tough.. I like Dr. Robotonic's Mean Bean Machine better except for the horrible, blindness inducing green background. I guess I have to go with Dr. Mario because I can play it for more than 10 minutes without getting a migraine.

Final Fantasy title

Final Fantasy

Phantasy Star title

Phantasy Star

Box Score: Here's a debate I'm sure nerds have had countless times. Final Fantasy for NES was the first installment of the epic series. It featured an open world where you were free to explore instead of being force-fed a plot (unlike most of its sequels). It allowed you to create your party and had an innovative battle system. Phantasy Star for SMS also featured an open world (also unlike most of its sequels). The party was fixed but each character given a back-story. It had possibly the best graphics made for an 8-bit console featuring 3D dungeons. Both titles sported soundtracks that remain popular today.

Winner: I don't think this is close, Phantasy Star was a much better game than Final Fantasy. Look, I liked Final Fantasy but I don't think it comes close to Phantasy Star. Alis & company win out on graphics, sound, and storyline. Final Fantasy fans can take consolation in knowing their favorite franchise ultimately buried the Phantasy Star series.

Gauntlet NES title

Gauntlet NES

Gauntlet SMS title

Gauntlet SMS

Box Score: The SMS version of Gauntlet sports much nicer graphics than the NES edition. It also uses a similar level design to the arcade while the NES version sports new maps.

Winner: I gotta give this one to the NES version. Yeah, the SMS version is closer to the arcade but that's not a good thing in this case. Instead of trying to duplicate the arcade experience, the NES version is just a decent Gauntlet-like game. On the other hand, Gauntlet for the SMS fails its attempt to mimic the original and is not nearly as fun as the NES rendition.

Ghostbusters NES title

Ghostbusters NES

Ghostbusters SMS title

Ghostbusters SMS

Box Score: The overall premise of Ghostbusters is roughly the same on the NES and SMS. However, the SMS version features an upgradeable car and wider assortment of anti-ghost weapons for purchase. The SMS graphics are also much nicer except for the banana ghosts.

Winner: Not only is the SMS version of Ghostbusters better than the NES version, it's actually a darn good game. I don't think this game deserves all the bashing it receives. All the little additions made in this edition turned an otherwise bad game into a perfectly playable one.

Ghosts 'n Goblins title

Ghosts 'n Goblins

Ghouls 'n Ghosts title

Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Box Score: There should be a distinct feeling of Deja Vu on this one.. the SMS game Ghouls 'n Ghosts attempts to recreate the arcade game of the same title. Visually, it does a nice job. However, the attention to graphics leaves the actual play control sluggish. The NES rendition, Ghosts 'n Goblins, is based on the arcade game but adapted for an 8-bit machine. The graphics and levels are simplified, in exchange the pace is incredibly fast. Both versions, just like the arcade original, are nearly impossible to win.

Winner: More Deja Vu, the NES version is a better game than the visually advanced SMS one.

Hydlide title


Ys title


Box Score: OK, on to the battle of games where you fight enemies by running into them and heal by just standing around. Ys is the first installment in the nine-or-so part series spanning several game systems. It had a great soundtrack (by 8-bit standards) that would be updated and lauded over the years. Hydlide is presented in a similar style to Ys. It introduces a magic meter which didn't appear until the second Ys game. It also managed to score a couple of sequels.

Winner: Ys, hands-down. I kinda put this in as a joke because I consider Hydlide to be comically bad. I have no idea how it survived until "Virtual Hydlide" on the Sega Saturn (still shocking that system failed). Yeah, you can mock Ys for the walking into enemies thing but it's really not as corny as it sounds. There's some degree of skilled involved and the system managed to survive for a few sequels (but was changed in later Windows versions). Hydlide, on the other hand, has an extremely lame battle system.

Jack Nicklaus' Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf title

Jack Nicklaus' Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf

PGA Tour Golf title

PGA Tour Golf

Box Score: Yeah Nintendo and Sega each made a golf game but it was the third-party publishers who stepped-up to publish some comprehensive versions. Jack Nicklaus' Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf originally appeared on various computers and was ported to the NES and TurboGrafx-16. PGA Tour Golf was the first installment in the long running series from EA. Like the previous game, it was ported from computer to all of Sega's consoles. Both of these games suffer from very slow draw times for the scenery. I can't recommend either if you're looking for a quick game of golf, but if you have time to kill they're worth a try.

Winner: This is close but I'll give the edge to PGA Tour Golf for the SMS. The control is tougher to master but the nice visuals make up for it. This is as good a looking 8-bit golf game as you can ask for. It also features more courses to choose from giving it superior replayability.

Kid Icarus title

Kid Icarus

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap title

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap

Box Score: I matched these two up because they're unconventional side-scrolling action games. Kid Icarus was a novel NES game where you fought through boring-old-standard scrolling levels and open dungeons where you can explore a bit. Along the way you buy/earn power-up items. In Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap you transform from one creature to the next trying to regain your human form. Each creature of course has it's own capabilities. Like Kid Icarus, you collect cash that's used to purchase weapon & armor upgrades.

Winner: This is a tough one. Although I think Kid Icarus was a great game (and am still puzzled there was never a sequel) I definitely have put more time into Wonder Boy III. It has a more open world and is quite innovative. Guess I gotta give the nod to Wonder Boy III but not by much.

King's Quest V title

King's Quest V

King's Quest title

King's Quest

Box Score: The NES version of King's Quest V is slightly obscure. It came out when the SNES was in high-gear and didn't appeal to many remaining NES owners. It obviously can't compete with the visuals of the PC version but looks darn fine for an NES game. The SMS port of the King's Quest looks better than the low-tech original PC version. Both implement occasionally-difficult control schemes to get around the absence of a mouse.

Winner: The NES version wins mostly because King's Quest V is a better game than the original installment. Graphically speaking, the SMS rendition looks a bit silly and that's also tough to get over. It feels like you're playing a kid's game while the NES version comes across as more mature.

Klax NES title

Klax NES

Klax SMS title

Klax SMS

Box Score: Despite coming from the same publisher, these versions pluralize "Klax" differently. Of course the publisher was Atari so what else would you expect? I'm sure I'll get an email explaining that this is some difference between American and British English or whatever. Anyway, these are the same except for the colors and backgrounds.

Winner: This just comes down to a matter of personal preference. I think the SMS version looks better than the NES one so it gets the nod.

Kung Fu title

Kung Fu

Kung Fu Kid title

Kung Fu Kid

Box Score: Alright, time to start kicking some groin. Kung Fu for the NES was one of the first releases for the system and it shows. It's a short game, you can win it the first time you play. Despite this it managed to be a staple for early NES adopters. Kung Fu Kid for the SMS is a knock-off with some improvements. The lifeless background has been replaced with actual scenery. They also made the play control less rigid.

Winner: Another tough one here.. Kung Fu gets old really, really fast. However, the control on Kung Fu Kid is awkward at best. I'm afraid that Kung Fu for the NES just barely nudges past Kung Fu Kid.

The Legend of Zelda title

The Legend of Zelda

Golvellius title


Box Score: The Legend of Zelda was a groundbreaking game that launched the massive game franchise. The first Zelda game was great because it didn't hold your hand and tell you exactly what to do. Imagine being a gamer back in the mid-80s before and hint books lining the shelves. You had to actually try and figure out how to win the game on your own (novel idea). The soundtrack, although low-tech, was extremely addictive and is one of the most recognizable today. Golvellius was possibly the first Zelda knock-off. The graphics are a bit more detailed and the action faster. It also contains side-scrolling dungeons like Zelda II.

Winner: Zelda by a landslide. It's one of the most innovative games ever made, period. Even many of its sequels fall short of the original. None of the imitators, like Golvellius, even come close.

Lemmings NES title

Lemmings NES

Lemmings SMS title

Lemmings SMS

Box Score: The PC classic Lemmings was ported to the NES and SMS. Both versions are respectable and do a descent enough job replicating the original controls.

Winner: The SMS version looks considerably brighter and the control scheme was ported a little bit better.

Mario is Missing title

Mario is Missing

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? title

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Box Score: You got me, I put this in as a joke. Every now and then Nintendo tried to sneak out an educational game to appease some parents. Believe it or not, way back when I worked at Electronics Boutique I frequently had parents ask "which system has the most educational games?". I'd reply "um, the PC", and they'd go off about computers being too expensive and settle on a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis. Anyway, Mario is Missing was an attempt to offer a semi-educational game. As the name implies, Mario has gone missing and Luigi is off to find him (a theme Nintendo would reuse). Luigi gets the shaft when it comes to his stand-alone games. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego is a port of the popular PC game. You bounce from city to city, learning generic facts about them, while searching for Carmen.

Winner: I gotta go with Carmen because I couldn't figure out how to play Mario is Missing. Plus I thought Luigi was supposed to be the thin brother?

Metroid title


Zillion title


Box Score: Metroid is another one of these landmark NES games. It broke the mold of what a side-scrolling game was. You weren't confined to keep running to the right forever. It was a puzzle solving game as much as an action game. You spent a lot of time thinking "how the *%&@ do I get up there?". Zillionfor the SMS looks & feels a lot like Metroid. Instead of battling Mother Brain you're trying to crack a computer code.

Winner: Another landslide here, Metroid. A lot of the things I said about Legend of Zelda apply here too. You had to sort Metroid out on your own. No little help messages popping-up telling you what to do next. You had to spend a lot of time exploring and it was great. The environment in Zillion is much more confined and gets bland after a while.

Punch-Out title


Rocky title


Box Score: Punch-Out (with or without Mike Tyson) for the NES is an arcade style boxing game. Well, "boxing" is a stretch. Yeah you're fighting shirtless men with puffy gloves but it doesn't resemble an actual boxing match. Your opponents fight with a set of scripted novelty moves that you must learn to counter. Rocky for the SMS is the first console boxing game that comes close to mimicking the sport.

Winner: Yeah, Rocky looks 1000x times better (or at least is 1000x more detailed) but Punch-Out is just plain fun. Rocky certainly recreates the boxing experience better than Punch-Out.. but have you ever watched an actual boxing match? Booooring. I'll take the ethnic stereotypes and far-fetched moves any day.

Ninja Gaiden title

Ninja Gaiden

Shinobi title


Box Score: OK, I'm starting to run out of snappy things to say about these games. I wanted to keep these descriptions short so here goes.. Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi are your standard ninja-running-around-slashing-bad-guys games.

Winner: I'll go with Ninja Gaiden, it's better paced and more fun. I've always thought Shinobi was a tad dull.

Pac Man title

Pac Man

Ms Pac Man title

Ms Pac Man

Box Score: OK, now we have a match-up of arcade ports where the target systems can actually do a respectable job copying the original. Let's face it, previous translations of Pac-Man weren't so hot. The NES version was just fine though. It looks and plays enough like the arcade machine to be respectable. Ms. Pac-Man for the SMS is a slightly different story. It was produced by Tengen who was a division or maybe off-shoot of Atari. I'm too lazy to check but whatever the case they inherited a lot of Atari's stupidity. They had the home distribution rights to Ms. Pac-Man for various consoles. Rather than do a straight port of Ms. Pac-Man they "improved" it but changing the graphic style, adding zany mazes, and introducing some kind of pac-accelerator. When playing it you can't stop pondering "when am I going to play Ms. Pac-Man already?"

Winner: I'll go with Pac-Man because it's just a near-perfect arcade copy. There's no reason why Ms. Pac-Man couldn't have been the same, they just decided against it.

Pac-Mania NES title

Pac-Mania NES

Pac-Mania SMS title

Pac-Mania SMS

Box Score: I'm not sure which one is worse - Pac-Mania or Super Pac-Man. Both are weak sequels and early evidence that the franchise should have stopped after Ms. Pac-Man. Pac-Mania was ported to the NES and SMS (mercifully Super Pac-Man was not), both are accurate conversions.

Winner: Unlike Ms. Pac-Man, the SMS version of Pac-Mania stays true to the original. Not only that but it looks great compared to the incredibly bland NES edition. OK, the dots are a little square but overall the SMS version is the better one.

Paperboy NES title

Paperboy NES

Paperboy SMS title

Paperboy SMS

Box Score: Paperboy was a mild arcade hit known mostly for its bicycle handlebar controller. It received translations for both the NES and SMS. The biggest difference is that the SMS version does a better job copying the arcade graphics (man, this sounds a lot like the Double Dragon recap).

Winner: This is another case where the pictures tell the story. The two Paperboy ports play roughly the same but the SMS version looks vastly better and wins this round.

Pinball Quest title

Pinball Quest

Sonic Spinball title

Sonic Spinball

Box Score: On to the battle of unconventional pinball games. Pinball Quest is a mostly obscure NES game that attempts to combine an adventure game and pinball. It's one of the oddest gaming experiences you'll encounter. Sonic Spinball took a cool stage from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and turned it into a full-blown game. It started as a Genesis game but quickly appeared on the SMS and Game Gear.

Winner: I'm giving this round to Pinball Quest. It doesn't look as good but it's far more entertaining (albeit far stranger). The whole Sonic pinball idea was nifty in a small dose but doesn't hold up as a standalone game.

Rad Racer title

Rad Racer

Out Run title

Out Run

Box Score: Rad Racer was the first, and possibly best, racing game for the NES. Out Run was an arcade success that Sega ported to every system they made at one point. It's probably best known for its mellow soundtrack though.

Winner: I am biased toward Out Run, it's about the only racing game I was ever good at. Even when taking an unbiased look at these two I still have to go with Out Run. Better graphics, better soundtrack, slightly better play control.

Rampage NES title

Rampage NES

Rampage SMS title

Rampage SMS

Box Score: The NES version of Rampage is a crude port of the arcade classic. It doesn't control like the original and only two monsters are present. The SMS version sports more detailed sprites, better controls, and all three monsters are playable. However, the soundtrack will make you suicidal in under five minutes.

Winner: Turn the sound off and go with the SMS version. It's much closer to the arcade experience than the NES one.

R.B.I. Baseball title

R.B.I. Baseball

Great Baseball title

Great Baseball

Box Score: Despite my previous knock on Tengen they did produce some high-quality games. R.B.I. Baseball for the NES is one such game. I find baseball to be the most boring sport ever invented but R.B.I. baseball manages to hold my attention anyway. Great Baseball is one installment in the "great" sports series for the SMS. It seems a little ahead of its time. You can actually see some early trappings of World Series Baseball for the Genesis appear in Great Baseball.

Winner: The technically inferior R.B.I. Baseball edges out Great Baseball based largely on the fun factor. It's a simple game that anyone can enjoy. Great Baseball is darn good for its time, but ask me which one I'd rather play and R.B.I. baseball gets my vote.

Rygar title


Rastan title


Box Score: For some reason Rygar for the NES totally creeped me out when I first played it back in 1980-whatever. I'm ashamed to admit it since I wasn't exactly a kid at the time. I don't know if it was the graphics, cryptic dialog, bizarre enemies, soundtrack, or the combination of all of them but it bugged me. I played through it anyway and found it to be an OK game overall. There were some bad flicker problems and you'd occasionally plummet to your death by accident though. My only memory of Rastan was seeing a sailor plunk an entire roll of quarters into it at the Aladdin's Castle in Lakehurst Mall. Note: this was before he even started playing not from dying and continuing, he looked like he was about to settle a grudge with the game. Many years later, at the same arcade, I was on a particularly good Mortal Kombat winning streak when another sailor dropped an entire roll of quarters into the machine with the goal of beating me. My only thought was "I better let this guy win or I'm getting my $&# kicked". Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Rastan for SMS.. I have no idea why Sega ported this to the SMS but not the Genesis which could have handled it. The Genesis would eventually get a crappy "Rastan Saga II", whatever.

Winner: Even though Rygar still kinda weirds me out this is not a good port of Rastan. I have to award this round to Rygar because this SMS translation is weak.

Spy vs. Spy NES title

Spy vs. Spy NES

Spy vs. Spy SMS title

Spy vs. Spy SMS

Box Score: The Mad Magazine inspired Spy vs. Spy locks two rivals in a house riddled with comical weapons. They have to hunt each other down and probably beat the other to some kind of goal. I last played this game ~15-17 years ago (and even then I only rented it) so forgive me if I skimp on the details.

Winner: I'll give the nod to the NES edition, mostly because they made much better use of the screen real estate. The SMS version just requires too much squinting, the hot pink doesn't help either. Otherwise the games are basically the same.

Star Wars NES title

Star Wars NES (1)

Star Wars NES (2)

Star Wars SMS title

Star Wars SMS (1)

Star Wars SMS (2)

Box Score: Is it possible to screw up Star Wars worse than the 8-bit home editions? The difficulty level is incredibly annoying. One wrong step on the first stage leaves you hopelessly stuck on a spiky floor with no ledges within jumping distance. Of the two versions, the SMS one looks better except for the childlike Luke sprite.

Winner: The SMS version just barely takes this round. The brighter colors compensate for the odd sprites, it's also the less impossible of the two.

Stinger title title


Fantasy Zone title

Fantasy Zone

Box Score: Fantasy Zone was a cutesy shooter ported from the arcade to the SMS. It's mostly known for its color scheme and wacky enemies. Stinger for NES was something of a knock-off. The ship had a similar design and the enemies were equally wacky.

Winner: I gotta admit it, I don't care for Fantasy Zone. The colors almost induce vomiting, I can't play it for more than five minutes. Stinger can get repetitive but I found it to be the better of the two.

Strider NES title

Strider NES

Strider SMS title

Strider SMS

Box Score: Strider was an arcade game by Capcom that was ported to several consoles. The SMS version tried to clone the arcade appearance and style. It does an OK job except the speed is a bit slow. The NES rendition kept the general style of the original game but went in some new directions, it introduced an actual plot and some adventure-like elements.

Winner: The think the NES version of Strider was the best console version made (including the Genesis). The play control may not have matched the arcade but I think overall it was actually an improvement.

Super Mario Bros. title

Super Mario Bros.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World title

Alex Kidd in Miracle World

Box Score: Alex Kidd was Sega's first attempt to create a mascot to compete with Mario. His debut game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, was definitely a swing directly at Mario. The graphics were a step up and vehicles (motorcycle, helicopter) were added. Additionally you could purchase power-up items throughout the game. Super Mario Bros. was the original pack-in for the NES and remains one of its most popular games. 

Winner: All things considered, Super Mario Bros. is the better game. Alex Kidd may be a technically superior game, but it has a fraction of the replay value. I've probably played through Alex Kidd 2-3 times while I've played Super Mario Bros. more than I care to admit.

Super Mario Bros. 2 title

Super Mario Bros. 2

Psycho Fox title

Psycho Fox

Box Score: Continuing the battle of platformers we have Super Mario Bros. 2 vs. Psycho Fox. I'm sure everyone knows the story about how Super Mario Bros 2. in the United States was not the "real Super Mario Bros. 2". Yeah, it was a remix of Doki Doki Panic but was still a fine platform game all the same. Psycho Fox, a late entry to the SMS library, took another stab at establishing a cartoony franchise character for Sega. The visuals were nice but the control a little spotty.

Winner: Mario or not, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a great installment in the series. It's certainly a leap beyond Psycho Fox which failed to be the "Mario-killer" Sega was looking for.

Super Mario Bros. 3 title

Super Mario Bros. 3

Sonic the Hedgehog title

Sonic the Hedgehog

Box Score: The SMS was on its last legs when Sega decided to port their Genesis mascot over. Sonic the Hedgehog was not directly based on the Genesis version though, the level design is closer to the Game Gear version. It was Sega's last ditch effort to breath a little life into their dying system. By contrast, Super Mario Bros. 3 was released at the peak of the NES's popularity.

Winner: Super Mario Bros. 3 by a wide margin.

Tecmo Super Bowl title

Tecmo Super Bowl

Joe Montana Football title

Joe Montana Football

Box Score: For the third time we're pitting an arcade-style sports game against a more detailed simulation. Tecmo Super Bowl continues the tradition of fast-paced, albeit slightly far-fetched, sports games for the NES. Joe Montana Football for the SMS offers up a more realistic recreation of the NFL experience (minus the stabbings, steroids, and primadonna wide receivers).

Winner: At the risk of repeating the R.B.I. Baseball vs. Great Baseball notes I'll say that Tecmo Super Bowl is just more fun to play than Joe Montana Football (this version at least). If I had to play one of these, I'd choose Tecmo Super Bowl hands-down. On a side-note, remember how great it was when there was more than one NFL game to choose from?

Ultima IV NES title

Ultima IV NES

Ultima IV SMS title

Ultima IV SMS

Box Score: If you like non-religious games that reward moral behavior then Ultima IV is the game for you. The NES and SMS both received a port of this PC hit although in slightly different formats (running theme today). On the NES it was updated to cater to a two-button controller, on the SMS there was an attempt to replicate the control of the original.

Winner: I gotta go with the NES version on this. It was ported to play more like a console game while the SMS version tried to clone the PC creating an awkward control scheme (you press "up" and the game scolds you, nice).

Vegas Dream title

Vegas Dream (1)

Vegas Dream (2)

Casino Games title

Casino Games (1)

Casino Games (2)

Box Score: Time to take an 8-bit trip to sunny Las Vegas. Vegas Dream for the NES lets players choose from blackjack, roulette, slots, and keno. Casino Games for the SMS has poker, blackjack, baccarat, slots, and pinball(?). They both feature a password system.

Winner: How can you make a casino game without poker? Forget the superior visuals, Casino Games takes this round based on game selection alone.

Zelda II title

Zelda II

Spellcaster title


Box Score: So we wrap things up with the battle of side-scrolling-action-/-adventure-combination games. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link went in a different direction than the original. The overhead view was replaced with side view. More emphasis was put on action and dialog as well. Spellcaster for the SMS jumped from dialog/puzzle-solving scenes to action ones. Think of it as Shadowgate only with action scenes (and much easier puzzles).

Winner: I thoroughly enjoyed Spellcaster but have to give the nod to Zelda II. The action sequences in Spellcaster are painfully slow and eventually become a burden. As an adventure game Spellcaster is the more interesting but as fun goes, Zelda II is the clear winner.

And the winner is..

I've got the final tally at 24-18 in favor of the NES. So what did we learn from this madness? As odd as it sounds, the Sega Master System may have failed because they tried too hard. By attempting to duplicate the arcade or PC experience on an 8-bit console they neglected to actually make the games something you'd want to play. Games ported to the NES were generally down-graded to better suit the hardware capabilities. Maybe this was Nintendo's direction, maybe it was a side-effect of trying to crank games out too quickly, maybe it was an accident, whatever the case it resulted in better games. The other lesson, which is stating the obvious I guess, is that first-party Nintendo releases are pretty tough to compete against. Sega's a great developer but many of their first-party titles for the Master System didn't touch Nintendo's early creations.

Well that was fun, but also more work than I expected. I think I'll do another grudge match this year, only with waaay fewer than 42 games. TurboGrafx-16 CD vs. Sega CD sounds tempting..